The case of the next Warchief

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The case of the next Warchief
The case of the next Warchief
Patch 5.3 is a-coming, and the Siege of Orgrimmar is drawing nearer and nearer every day. One question that I know is on everyone's mind is, who will be the next warchief? We know Garrosh is getting deposed - we don't yet know if he's going to die - and someone will have to take his place.

So who should it be? The obvious choice is one of the racial leaders, though exactly which one is up for debate. I thought it would be fun to analyze some of the potential candidates and tease out what might make them a reasonable choice of warchief both inside and outside the story. Let's start with some of the easily dismissible, for brevity's sake.

This post contains some minor spoilers for patch 5.3, so be warned!

The Snowballs in Hades:

Let's be honest, I don't think these guys have any chance at all, but for the sake of being complete, here they are.

Ji Firepaw: We can scrap this guy right off the bat. He's the pandaren representative to the Horde, but he's a) brand new and b) really doesn't have any reason to care much about the Horde's internal politics at this point. No warchief, this one. You're the weakest link, goodbye!
Jastor Gallywix: Another easily discarded candidate. Though the scenarios in 5.3 do provide some motivation and context for the goblins ultimately joining the rebellion, their representative is literally no where to be found. Really truly. He doesn't even have a model in the game after the goblin starting zone. Unless Blizzard is a preparing for some grand plot twist involving Gallywix somewhere in patch 5.3 or 5.4 (not impossible, but doubtful), I think we can safely drop him.

Now we're into murkier territory - the realm of candidates who, theoretically, could actually have a shot. The rest of the racial leaders are well-developed and well-known, but not all of them are actually well-positioned to claim the seat of the warchief. I'm going to list them in order of least to most likely, in my opinion, with a wild card at the end.

The Unlikelies:

Sylvanas Windrunner: Sylvanas has been a popular and contentious figure in the Warcraft universe since her introduction in Warcraft III. Her story is well-known and compelling: once the proud Ranger-General of Quel'Thalas, she was killed by Arthas, who raised her as an undead banshee as punishment for opposing his devastating march through her homeland. After a time, she regained her free will, and gathered other similarly released undead under her banner. They called themselves the Forsaken and claimed the ruined capital of Lordaeron as their home, vowing revenge against Arthas.
That revenge came two expansions ago, and the question of what the Forsaken are going to do in the wake of Arthas' defeat is ongoing. Sylvanas was very active throughout Cataclysm, leading a campaign of conquest across the northern Eastern Kingdoms. Gilneas, Southshore, Andorhal, and parts of Arathi fell to her armies, and though Garrosh clearly did not fully trust her, Sylvanas proved to be just as formidable a general in undeath as she was in life. Her presence, or absence, in any Horde battles could prove decisive, as she leads one of the most effective armies of the Horde. Nonetheless, she has been remarkably quiet throughout all of Mists of Pandaria, and none of her peers seem particularly keen on engaging her with current events.

The reason why is obvious: none of them actually like her. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Sylvanas is terrifying. She is ruthless, brutal, and has proven herself willing to use the very same tactics that were used against her to bolster her undead army - the forced reanimation of dead bodies. She claims that, unlike Arthas, she leaves her citizens with their free will intact, however, there is evidence to the contrary. Given her demonstrated tendencies toward brutal totalitarianism (not unlike Garrosh himself, interestingly enough) and gruesome, plague-based warfare, I cannot imagine that many other folks in the Horde - even those who once respected her greatly - actually want her to be in charge. It likely wouldn't be much of an improvement from the current status, just a lateral move. If Sylvanas is acting disinterested, there are some very solid reasons to let that disinterest be, and to not encourage her. For these reasons, I think it highly unlikely that Sylvanas will become the next warchief.

Baine Bloodhoof: Baine has a few solid things going for him. He is Cairne Bloodhoof's son, and Cairne was by nearly all accounts a legendary chieftain of his people. Devastated by years of war with rival centaur clans, Cairne boldly led his people out of their traditional homelands in search of a safer place to settle. He, Thrall, and Vol'jin formed the backbone of the leadership of the New Horde. Cairne also oversaw the tauren's building of Thunder Bluff in Mulgore, forming their first known city. These are huge cultural upheavals, and their successes can largely be attributed to Cairne's astute leadership. Baine comes from a proud lineage, and presumably learned a great deal at his father's side.

Of course, presumption isn't the same as reality, and Baine has made some questionable political decisions recently. Not the same blatantly malicious kind as Garrosh, but the kind borne out of naivete and an unwillingness to face certain problems head-on. Baine seems to struggle with decisiveness. This is not an unexpected or unusual problem for people new to positions of leadership. Baine has a difficult job, and he's learning, but he doesn't quite seem to be there yet. It is my opinion that, for this reason, he would make a poor warchief. I just don't think he has the experience necessary. Interestingly enough, a very similar situation did not stop Thrall from leaving the position to Garrosh in the first place, which is something to think about. And to perhaps fear.
All that being said, Baine could potentially do some interesting things for the Horde. He and Anduin Wrynn have been on friendly terms in the past, and Baine's clear open-mindedness could herald the type of new direction that Horde leadership desperately needs. As my colleagues here at WoW Insider have pointed out in other articles, Thrall's "New" Horde was actually not all that different from Doomhammer's Horde, and the ease with which Garrosh has recreated Doomhammer's Horde is a testament to that. Baine's willingness to see beyond us vs. them rhetoric, even in the thick of war, could be a huge asset to rebuilding the Horde and laying a true foundation for long-term peace with the Alliance. I still personally think Baine would be a bad choice for warchief, but the future warchief would be wise to treat Baine better than Garrosh has.

The Best Bets:

These are the folks that, given things in WoW as they currently stand, I believe have the best chance at becoming the next warchief.

Lor'themar Theron: Lor'themar has, to pretty much everyone's utter shock, emerged as a serious sleeper contender here. It's to the point where even Dave Kosak tweeted pictures of "Lor'themar for Warchief" buttons made by Blizzard employees. Given the former prevalence of "Who?" jokes whenever someone invoked the name of the blood elves' leader, I think that if a year ago anyone had predicted Lor'themar would be one of the most dicussed characters of Mists of Pandaria, we would have all had some derisive laughter for them. Indeed, Lor'themar and the blood elves' activity throughout Mists in general is a fascinating plot direction, and it has left Lor'themar better-placed to make a serious move for the position of warchief than anyone ever could have predicted.

Lor'themar does have some attractive skills here that are worth considering. He is, or was, a military commander first and foremost. As Sylvanas' second-in-command prior to and during the Third War, he has experience leading armies through combat, and that kind of martial prowess is clearly an important component of Horde leadership. In addition, Lor'themar has also now spent a number of years heading the rebuilding of Quel'Thalas, both as a nation and as a culture, and that road has been extremely fraught. Undoubtedly he has learned a great deal about political leadership during this time as well, and this particularly is where he shines over someone like Baine, who is still struggling with those things due to the newness of his position. Lor'themar went through a similar crucible throughout and immediately after Burning Crusade, and has emerged on the other side of it tougher and savvier.
Lor'themar and Rommath
Furthermore, like Baine, Lor'themar also possesses some appealing diplomatic abilities that would be an excellent asset to a Horde looking to move in a truly new direction. His willingness to potentially throw his lot in with the Alliance in 5.1 might be a strike against his intrinsic loyalty to the Horde, but it can also be perceived as open-mindedness. Lor'themar isn't against opening negotiations with his enemies if he feels it's appropriate and necessary. This is a stark contrast to Garrosh's uncompromising attitude and is perhaps a lesson Lor'themar took from certain events in Cataclysm. A leader who is willing to learn is a leader the Horde desperately needs. At this point, the major thing working against Lor'themar is the fact that he's a blood elf, and the blood elves have never truly enjoyed the same status within the Horde as the orcs, trolls, or tauren. It's up in the air whether or not a primarily orcish Horde would accept a blood elven leader, and that is a serious obstacle to be considered. Could Lor'themar be the next warchief? I lean toward no, but that opinion is not as assured as it was six months ago, when even considering the idea seemed utterly absurd.

Vol'jin: The more information we see coming out of patch 5.3, the more my money is sliding toward Vol'jin as the next warchief. Despite Lor'themar being the one to take the first concrete steps toward open rebellion against Garrosh, Vol'jin is the one taking the rebellion's reigns on its home turf. For an even further meta-analysis, Vol'jin is also the subject of the latest WoW novel, and if that isn't a big flashing sign that he's about to be a Very Important Character, then I don't know what is.

Vol'jin has been awaiting his day in the sun for a long time now. He's one of the more-established WoW racial leaders, having been first introduced in Warcraft III, but he didn't have much of a spotlight in WoW itself until relatively recently. The retaking of the Echo Isles back in Wrath was the first time I remember him being an active mover and shaker. Since then, his roll in the game has slowly garnered more spotlight, and seems to be culminating in this rebellion. Unlike Lor'themar, whose in-game development came rather rapidly and somewhat unexpectedly, Vol'jin's has been building for a while now. He's even fulfilling an old promise he made. There's a certain narrative poetry to Vol'jin leading the uprising and taking Garrosh's place.
In addition, like both Baine and Lor'themar, Vol'jin has proven himself willing to cross the Horde/Alliance divide when he deems it necessary. In Cataclysm he secretly petitioned anyone who'd listen to help him oppose the Zandalari threat, and he has no problem accepting help from the Alliance during the Horde rebellion. The latter is of course an extremely self-serving move, but it also demonstrates the presence of a pragmatism that Garrosh most certainly lacks. Vol'jin doesn't seem to feel poorly about the divide between Horde and Alliance the way Baine and Lor'themar sometimes do, but he also clearly doesn't see the Alliance as an opposing force existing solely to be crushed beneath the Horde war machine the way Garrosh does.

As for Vol'jin's credentials, well, he certainly has experience leading a people. But does he have experience leading a nation? That, I think, is one of the crucial differences between Vol'jin and Lor'themar. Silvermoon was once an enormous, thriving city, and Quel'Thalas was once a powerful nation. Though Lor'themar has inherited only its remnants, his perception of leadership is surely filtered through what it means to lead an entire country. Vol'jin doesn't have that particular vision - or does he? It's a bit hard to say, but this is the one sticking point I keep coming back to with regard to Vol'jin's leadership. The jump from leading the Darkspear trolls to leading the entire international confederation that is the Horde could prove to be an extremely difficult one to make.

The Wild Card

Thrall: It's possible. Thrall was warchief when WoW began, I can see the appeal of him being warchief once more. After an extremely active presence in Cataclysm, he's taken a serious back seat during Mists, though he hasn't disappeared entirely. We know he tells Vol'jin that he just can't believe that every orc in Orgrimmar would support Garrosh's actions, and it seems that he's going to take some kind of role in the rebellion, though we don't know exactly what or how.
The Doomhammer
What can we say to Thrall coming back? I know some people for it, I know some people against it. Our own writers have written eloquently about Thrall's failures as a warchief and those are good reasons to oppose his return to the position. However, it's also possible that he's learned from his mistakes, and there is a certain elegance to a story where Thrall shoulders the responsibility of Garrosh's actions because Thrall is the person who put Garrosh in power in the first place. Remember, Garrosh originally didn't even want to be warchief of the Horde!

Do I honestly think Thrall will be reinstated as warchief? I'm really not sure. Prior to Mists of Pandaria, I would have said yes, but ongoing developments have me actively doubting my interpretations and questioning my assumptions in a number of ways. I like that. I'm excited to see where it will go, and to discover who will, in fact, be the next warchief of the Horde.

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The case of the next Warchief